Wednesday, November 26, 2014

We Love Mickey Mouse

We are just finalizing everything for our upcoming trip to Disney World this year (2014) which seems about the right time to post about last year’s favorite dining excursions. That’s how we find ourselves these days, about a year behind.
Every year, the Disney experience just gets better and better. This upcoming year will mark our 5th consecutive family trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. We are staying at both the Art of Animation with the largest pool at Disney World, and Port Orleans Riverside. We have our magic bands in hand, and fast passes selected. We are sitting on pins and needles in anticipation!
Last year was incredibly fun, though I left feeling unsatisfied. We started our family vacation in St. Maarten. Unfortunately, near the end of the week I came down with an excruciatingly painful ear infection. The plane trip from St. Maarten to Florida literally had me clutching my head in the corner. It was heinous, and I could hardly walk out of the airport after we landed. The first day at Disney was rough, and I had to leave Gabriel and the twins at Animal Kingdom and take a bus back to our hotel to rest. Though each day got a little better, the first three days weren't what I would call fulfilling, which left the last three days trying to fill what we couldn’t experience the first three days, while the final day, Gabe came down with something resembling the flu and it was a miserable trip home. Not only that, but our credit card numbers were stolen during the St. Maarten portion of the trip and we spent the next 6 months trying to straighten everything out.
The worst part: I didn’t even get a proper visit to the Boulangerie! So,... when I say we are excited for this year’s trip, I mean I need to squeeze two years into one! This year we’re staying for a full 9 days, plus our departure flight doesn’t leave until 8 pm on the 10th day! Now that is what you call a Disney vacation!
Despite the setbacks, Disney is Disney and Disney rarely disappoints. We had two favorite meals last year. The first was at Coral Reef Restaurant. This pearl is tucked away in Epcot behind the Nemo ride in the Seas portion of Future World. This restaurant is truly spectacular. It is housed inside an actual aquarium; the same ‘The Seas with Nemo & Friends aquarium’ you can view when you exit the ride of the same name. The ride itself is adorable and follows Marlin and Nemo as they swim through the ocean with their friends and climaxes with an adorable song at the end from the musical:

Walt Disney World Epcot Theme Park
Future World Seas Pavillion
Disney World, Florida
(407) WDW-DINE

We waited a few extra minutes for a table next to the glass and we actually got to watch our own Mr. Ray leading a school of fish around the aquarium, completing several laps, presumably teaching the little tykes all about sea life. It was magical!

I ordered the Lobster and Shrimp Orecchiette Pasta with White Cheddar Cheese and Asparagus, and ended up sharing most of it with the twins. They ate it in addition to their fish of the day, and since I was still feeling quite ill I was happy to see it not go to waste. Despite not feeling well, I remember it was delicious with large, and plentiful, chunks of lobster.  Gabriel ordered the Seared Rainbow Trout with Warm Salad of White Beans, Arugula, Tomatoes, crispy Bacon, Aged Balsamic Vinegar, and Brown Butter. It was phenomenal.

I will admit that the desserts left a little to be desired, however, the atmosphere couldn’t be beat. It was festive, it was unique, and if you have little aquatic lovers like I do, your kids will be overjoyed.

Our other favorite meal was at everyone’s new favorite restaurant: Be Our Guest! In fact, this year we called at our 180 days, plus the 10 extra days they give you for booking advance hotel reservations and there was still no availability for any night of our stay. If you want to dine here, and you definitely should try: Good Luck!

Magic Kingdom Theme Park
New Fantasyland
Disney World, Florida
(407) WDW-DINE
Online Reservations

This restaurant is gorgeous, and does not miss a single detail when it comes to recreating the Beast’s castle on top of Belle’s village. From the bridge to the entrance, to the grand ballroom and the detailing artwork on the ceiling. We were fortunate to get a table right next to the outer walls and could watch the snow falling outside the castle.

The Beast does several grand entrances where the butler announces his entrance and he makes his way through the dining hall weaving his way among the tables. He then goes to his study and waits for visitors to take photos with.

We dined on Pan-seared Salmon on Leek Fondue served with Creamy Saffron-crushed Potatoes, and Grilled Strip Steak with Garlic-Herb Butter and Pommes Frites. Midway through dinner our server came and asked us if we’d like to watch the fireworks. He ushered us out to the bridge where we had the most spectacular, front row view of the fireworks which exploded right over our heads with only a handful of people to share it with. There is nothing to describe how incredible it was.

Again, this was another restaurant where dessert was simply lackluster. For such an exquisite dining experience, ambiance, and character dining, I was disappointed to have nothing more than cupcakes for dessert options. Because we were celebrating our anniversary, we were also served a plate of ‘the grey stuff, it’s delicious!’ which it was, but had we not had a celebration there would have been nothing remarkable to mention here.

On our way out we visited the Beast in his study. We received a warm welcome, and had fun chatting with him. Our little boy was especially delighted.

Our last memorable dining experience this year was at Cinderella's Royal Table, which is actually inside the castle itself. We spent a long time deciding between Akershus and Cinderella, wondering if it was an experience we should save for our children when they were a little bit older. Obviously we chose it, and it was not one of our favorites. In fact, it was terrible. I cannot recommend it.

Cinderella's Royal Table
Magic Kingdom Theme Park
Fantasyland in Cinderella’s Castle
Disney World, Florida

The food is expensive, (2 credits on the dining plan) and doesn't even come close to being worth it. The tables are scrunched so close together you can barely move without bumping into someone else. Considering this is a character dining experience, it’s not ideal, since you are constantly getting up and moving around to take pictures and visit.

The one compliment I have is that the experience feels very authentic. You are called as a royal party to visit Cinderella on the Royal Carpet in her throne room where you take photos (and receive one really terrible rushed complimentary photo)  and led up a beautiful staircase to the dining room. From there you are seated and given a wishing star, and either a sword or a royal star scepter. The castle is exquisite of course, and the stain glass windows and the view of the park were unparalleled. Unfortunately, that was the highlight. More princesses come to greet you during dinner, but they are rushed, they are cramped, and between trying to choke down truly disgusting food, feeling claustrophobic, and just simply wanting to leave, you wished you never came at all.

1 Year Ago: Almost Never A Disappointment, 2012 Disney World Dining Reviews
2 Years Ago: The Happiest Food on Earth, 2011 Disney World Dining Reviews
4 Years Ago: Hold Music, Boulangerie Patisserie Review
4 Years Ago: Raise A Toast, Biergarten Review

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Are You In The Mood For Chocolate?

Browse through my blog a little bit, or check out my labels (toppings) over to the right and you'll find 20 chocolate cakes, 50 blog entries that include chocolate, 8 brownie recipes, and even a picture of me trying to eat a giant 11 pound slab of chocolate

I love chocolate. Everytime I open my cupboard to grab a teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder, I'm always tempted to add cocoa powder. It doesn't matter what I'm making, baking, or cooking, I want to add chocolate. 

These tasty cupcakes fulfill that chocolate craving. Starting with a creamy chocolate cheesecake base layer, they round out with a fluffy chocolate cake, and are topped with a thick, luscious chocolate frosting. 

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes
These are a gift. 

Chocolate Cheesecake
16 oz cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup cocoa powder
3 eggs
Whip all ingredients together until smooth and creamy

Spoon 2-3 tablespoons into cupcake liners 
Bake at F300° for 10-12 minutes or until barely set
While cooking, prepare chocolate cake
When done, remove from oven and increase temp to F350°

Chocolate Cake
4 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
Beat well until creamy

1 cup flour
½ sour cream
¾ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
Stir just until ingredients are incorporated

1 cup melted butter
Whip until smooth

1 cup flour
½ cup sour cream
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
Stir just until ingredients are incorporated

Pour over baked cheesecake and place back in oven
Bake for additional 15-20 minutes or until cake springs back to the touch
Remove from cupcake tins and cool on wire rack

Chocolate Frosting
+/- 2 cups powdered sugar
½ cup cocoa powder

3 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
½ cup butter
½ cup milk

Pipe large swirls over domed cupcakes
Sprinkle with chocolate jimmies or chocolate chips

Yields 36-42 cupcakes

More triple chocolate cake: Comatose Cake
2 years ago: The Three B's, Banana Butterscotch Bundt Cake
3 years ago: Stand by Me, S'more Macarons
4 years ago: Rain or Shine, Campfire Cookies

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Almost Never A Disapointment

The reason I am so belated in writing about Disney World is because it's so hard to come home! Reminiscing and browsing through our pictures just makes me all the more excited and geared back up to go! We started planning this years trip more than six months in advance to ensure reservations at the newly opened 'Be Our Guest' (honestly the biggest reason we visit Disney World is for the food)! We are now just shy of a 12 week wait until our trip!

Because three months is barely bearable, I'm ready to share with you our three most memorable dining experiences from our 2012 trip to Disney World. (Looking through these pictures, and seeing how little my babies were, makes me realize how long ago it really was!)

As part of the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot you have the opportunity to enter the ancient Aztec Temple of Quetzalcoatl and take the Gran Fiesta Boat Tour guided by the Three Caballeros Donald Duck, Panchito Pistoles, and José Carioca. This upbeat, humorous log ride is a fun way to start your trip in Mexico, and the lines are always short. The best part about it is that while on your Boat Tour you get a perfect, tantalizing view of the San Angel Inn Restaurante.

Mexico is a unique pavilion with a number of dining choices, but we've always been drawn to San Angel Inn Restaurante because of the atmosphere, background and mood. (It's very reminiscent of the Blue Bayou restaurant inside New Orleans Square, part of Adventure Land in Disneyland Park.) The restaurant is within the temple, behind the attractions, the vendors and shopping, the museum and the small historical models and tours, and is covered by a romantic, starry night sky and encircled by a river with a volcano in the distance.

San Angel Inn Restaurante
Walt Disney World Epcot Theme Park
World Showcase & Mexico Pavillion
Disney World, Florida
(407) 939-3463
Online Reservations

Our server, Juanito, at San Angel Inn Restaurante was quite literally, of any restaurant I've ever dined at, incomparable. Attentive but not crowding, intuitive without smothering, in fact if I didn't know better I would have thought he was our personal butler. The minute we took the last sip of our drinks, he showed up magically to refill them. He recommended foods that fit our personal tastes, and he was so patient with our over-tired babies who got a little bit of spice on their tongues.

This was our favorite restaurant of the trip, not just because of Juanito, or the ambiance, but because of the heavenly food!

We opted for the Traditional Mexican Dinner which included a full three course dinner. For appetizers we enjoyed Tostadas de Tinga; tortilla chips covered in chicken, chipotle, beans and sauces. For our entrées we devoured the Fish Tacos; flour tortillas stuffed with fish, cabbage and the most succulent spices including chipotle-lime aioli and green tomatillo sauce; and for dessert we dined on Crema Bavaria; a mousse topped with fresh berries and cinnamon.

Kona Cafe
Disney's Polynesian Resort
Disney World, Florida
(407) 824-2000 (not for reservations)
Online Reservations

The Polynesian Resort is incredible, to say the least. One can only expect the same from any restaurant housed within the perimeter. The Kona Cafe did not disappoint, though visually it's quite unassuming. The meal began with a complimentary loaf of Macadamia Nut Bread and if you have any question as to how delicious this bread was, just know that I felt compelled to take pictures of my entire family eating it.

The fabulous meal only began with the bread, though I would have been satisfied without anything additional. We ordered the children a plate of Mickey Ravioli which was simple and enjoyable.

Gabriel enjoyed the Togarashi Spiced Ahi Tuna which was accompanied with a tempura fried vegetable maki roll. It was amazing. It was cooked to perfection with a perfect sear and tenderness.

I dined on the Teriyaki Style New York Strip Steak with pineapple teriyaki glaze (I can't turn down anything cooked with pineapple). It was as good as steak can be with a slight crunch to the exterior, and both delicate and sweet meat.

My only complaint of the entire experience was that as we were winding down our meal, our server took away our remaining half loaf of Macadamia Nut Bread without even asking. I had intended to finish it, take it back to our hotel, or simply keep it in my possession, but she snatched it away so quickly I couldn't even protest. It's nearly a year later, and I'm still upset about it...

I'm torn over Hollywood Studios. Half the time I tell myself I'm never going back until our children are older and beg us to go there. The other half of the time I tell myself I don't want to miss any of the parks during our annual visit, and surely there is something there I'm missing. Yet every time we go I think it's a dud. There are a few worthwhile attractions, but they are sparse, and I've yet to encounter any food that isn't wholly terrible, except for some ice cream near Tower of Terror. They've opened up a few new things there since our last visit, and to be fair, I'm looking at the attractions on the Disney website and there are several things that I don't think we've ever experienced.

One thing I can say with absolute confidence, and it's something that is worth repeating: the food is horrendous. Do any Google search for 'Disney World Hollywood Studios Food' and you'll get the same results.

Sci-Fi Theater and Dine-In Restaurant 
Hollywood Studios
Disney World, Florida
(407) 939-3463
Online Reservations

We originally made reservations at the 50's Prime Time Cafe, but we were ready to leave the park, and starving to boot, but our reservation wasn't for another 2 hours so we popped into the Sci-Fi Theater to see if they had availability. Afterwards, when we stopped into the 50's Cafe to cancel our reservation on the way out of the park it did look rather inciting. The hostesses were asking everyone why they were late, telling them how hard Mom had been working on dinner, and the furniture and settings looked directly out of the 1950's. We will likely try to eat there for the 3rd time at some point (on our first visit to Disney World we accidentally booked a reservation at Hollywood and Vine, thinking it was the 50's Cafe, and it was also terrible).

The novelty of the Sci-Fi Theater Restaurant can't be beat. Aliens plastered all over the walls, a very cheesy futuristic decor, and seating behind the hood and dashboard of a car facing a giant movie screen. One of the allures of this restaurant is that you can watch old Sci-Fi movies while you eat. This is simply not true. They play five or six different clips of movies (more like commercials or promos than actual clips) that are on a running loop, over and over and over again. It's extremely dark, the wait for your food is exhausting, and the food is just plain inedible.

Yes, the shakes are good. But seriously? It's nearly impossible to go wrong with ice cream.

1 Year Ago: The Happiest Food on Earth, 2011 Disney World Dining Reviews
3 Years Ago: Hold Music, Boulangerie Patisserie Review
3 Years Ago: Raise A Toast, Biergarten Review

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